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Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to combat your chronic insomnia without needing medication or psychotherapy? Studies show that yoga can be a perfect remedy for you to fall asleep and stay asleep longer.

With chronic insomnia prevalent in around 20 percent of the population, it is no wonder that patients can become frustrated with their melatonin pills and breathing exercises before bed with their limited results [1].  

Yoga has been touted as a discipline that can improve your flexibility, help manage stress and even boost your fitness level, but did you know that is can also be a great way to say good by to your sleepless nights? Clinical trails demonstrate that yoga can be a natural sleep aid and targets the key components that can lead to chronic insomnia. Yoga addresses the same cognitive and physiological arousal that manifests into chronic insomnia and after completing daily yoga sessions, participants suffering from chronic insomnia note significant improvements in:

  • total sleep time,
  • sleep efficiency,
  • wake time after sleep onset and
  • sleep latency [2].

Number 1: Child's Pose (Balasana Yoga) 

This is a great yoga position to help with your chronic insomnia treatment and is a manageable pose for all skill-levels and ages. An unfortunate truth is chronic insomnia is a disease most commonly seen in elderly patients with a prevalence ranging from 33 to 50 percent of patients [3]. As a patient ages, there is a deterioration of their flexibility, fitness and conditioning making it difficult for this population to exercise [4]. This limited mobility can make some of the more complicated poses associated with seasoned-yoga enthusiasts out of the scope of what a participant can be expected to complete. 

Child's pose is a low-impact exercise and one of the first poses any yoga enthusiast will learn. It is a resting pose to help a participant regulate their breathing and manage their stress. 

Having the elderly population practice yoga has been proven to be an effective resource to improve their sleep. One study conducted over 6 months called for elderly patients with no previous yoga experience to receive daily instruction for the first month, weekly instruction until the third month, and then lead their own yoga exercises for the remainder of the study. At the conclusion of the study, there was significant improvement in quality of life, increased total sleep time and depressive symptoms even after the patients stopped receiving outside instruction on their sessions.[5]

Number 2: Corpse Pose (Savasana Yoga) 

This exercise is another routine that all participants regardless their age can perform as a part of their chronic insomnia treatment. Corpse pose focuses on decelerating a racing mind and breathing exercises to help relax a participant. This is a supine relaxation technique and when included in a standard yoga course, leads to improvements in:

  • flexibility,
  • oxygen uptake and
  • subjective relaxation.

This study also concluded that participants who complete these relaxation poses just prior to bedtime will be able to fall asleep more easily before starting a yoga course. [6]

Number 3: Left Nostril Breathing (Surya Bhedana) 

This is another breathing exercise that can be effectively incorporated in yoga or even while attempting to fall asleep in bed with impressive results. Left nostril breathing consists of covering your right nostril in a seated or supine position and taking 5-10 deep breaths. As you breath, you begin to relax and can fall asleep more readily than before.  

An important fact to remember when you are completing these exercises is to make sure you are covering the right nostril. A recent study conducted to determine the effect of this yoga exercise of the physiological responses of young, healthy participants found that participants that would cover their left nostril were found to have increased sympathetic tone, higher heart rates and increased anxiety. This is the exact opposite effect that you would hope for prior to falling asleep. Sympathetic tone is associated with the "flight or fight" response humans are naturally programmed with and helps use deal with stressful situations with increased heart rate, rapid breathing [7, 8]. 

Those who were instructed to cover their right nostril, however, were found to have the desired effects of: 

  • increased vagal tone,
  • decreased heart rate and
  • a decreased sense of anxiety [8]. 
Left nostril breathing promotes an autonomic nervous system response (also called the parasympathetic system) that is needed to help us fall asleep more quickly. 

A reason that could explain this anomaly is the fact that 79 percent of the population has a deviated nasal septum. The nasal septum is the bone in your nose that gives your nostrils and nose its distinctive space. The majority of this population will have a slight deviation to the right so patients have a slightly larger hole to breath through on their left sides. It stands to reason that if you are breathing through a larger opening, you will have increased air flow and can find the beneficial changes associated with left nostril breathing. In patients with a right nasal septum deviation, covering the left nostril means you are breathing through a smaller opening and therefore would naturally put yourself in a more stressful situation. [9]

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